January 9, 2003
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Matt Williams

Village fires police officer over February incident

Yellow Springs police officer Matt Williams was fired last week after an internal police investigation and a pre-disciplinary hearing found that Williams lied about and filed a false report about an incident that occurred last February. The investigation and hearing also found that Williams misused his power as a police officer when he allegedly twice stopped three young women driving through town during the early morning of Feb. 14, 2002.

Williams’s attorney, Jeffrey Shulman of the Dayton law firm Sebaly, Shillito & Dyer, said Monday that the Village’s allegations about Williams are not true. Shulman declined to offer specific details, saying he would not try the case in the press. “I am confident that at the end of the day he will be reinstated,” Shulman said.

Police Chief Jim Miller started an investigation after Sabrina Jones of Cedarville, who was driving during the incident, filed a complaint with the Village on Feb. 21. As a result of the investigation, Miller recommended the Village dismiss Williams.

Williams, who was hired as a part-time officer in May 1998 and moved up to full-time in March 1999, had been placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 26, pending the hearing. In accordance with the Village’s personnel policy manual, a hearing, overseen by a neutral hearing officer, Michael Hammond, a former municipal manager, was held on Dec. 6.

According to Hammond’s report on the hearing, the Village presented sworn testimony from Jones, Miller and Police Captain John Grote during the hearing; Williams and his girlfriend, Kathy Allinikov, testified in his defense. The Village also presented documents and witness statements.

In his report, Hammond concluded that Williams did engage in the misconduct alleged by Miller.

Village Manager Rob Hillard in a letter dated Jan. 2 notified Williams that he was fired. Hillard said that Williams’s actions were “inconsistent with your continued employment as a police officer for the Village of Yellow Springs.” Saying that Williams is not capable of changing his behavior, Hillard said, “You have been given repeated opportunities to demonstrate your honesty and integrity and have failed to do so.”

Williams will appeal the Village’s decision, Shulman said, but it’s unclear what Williams’s options are now. Hillard said Monday that the Village’s internal appeals process has been exhausted.

Shulman said it was inappropriate for the Village to fire Williams 10 months after the incident took place. “We feel it was inappropriate to fire him, period,” he said. “The fact that it was done 10 months after the incident occurred fuels the prohibitiveness of it.”

When asked to explain, Shulman said, “It seems to me that if an officer really engaged in conduct that was deserving of being fired, that would be something that would take place rather promptly.”

Williams’s home phone number is unlisted and he could not be reached for comment. A request for an interview with the officer was also made through Shulman. Shulman said Williams would not comment for this article.

In an interview Monday, Miller said that the investigation showed Williams stopped Jones without probable case and that the officer was “not truthful about that traffic stop.”

While police officers can make errors in judgment, it is important for them to be truthful, Miller said. In his report of the investigation, Miller said, “Regretfully, but due to the high level of trust law enforcement must earn and maintain with the public that gives us our authority, I must recommend officer Williams be terminated as an officer with the Yellow Springs Police Department.”

Miller said he is “very confident” in the investigation and in his conclusions. He also objected to Shulman’s position about the length of time between the incident and Williams’s dismissal. Miller said the Yellow Springs Police Department has limited resources and does not have an internal affairs department to conduct these types of investigations. He described the investigation as thorough. “No one can accuse us of rushing through the investigation,” he said.

“The length of time it took doesn’t change the facts,” Miller said.

Differing accounts of incident

The accounts given by those involved in the incident on Feb. 14 vary. For instance, Jones claimed Williams stopped her twice, while Williams claimed he only stopped her once; Jones voluntarily stopped to talk to him a second time, he reported.

Based on reports by Miller and Hammond, and statements made before and during last month’s hearing, here’s what appears to have happened that morning: At approximately 2:59 a.m., Sabrina Jones and two passengers were driving through Yellow Springs and turned left onto U.S. 68 from Dayton Street. Williams, who was the only officer on duty that morning, stopped Jones and accused her of speeding and drinking and driving. Williams said he smelled alcohol in the truck. Jones denied she had been either drinking or speeding and asked Williams to see the radar gun. Williams refused, she said.

Williams reported that he gave Jones a sobriety test and told her she was not impaired. Jones and her passengers, Sarah Blair and Nya Williams, did not report that Matt Williams performed the sobriety test during the stop.

Williams then gave Jones a verbal warning. In her statement and in her testimony during the hearing, Jones reported that Williams let her go, saying, “You owe me now.”

Jones then proceeded north on U.S. 68 in her pickup truck and dropped off Blair at her home in Springfield. Jones drove back to Yellow Springs to take Nya Williams home here in town.

Matt Williams admitted that at some point he told Jones that she now owed him, but during his testimony, Williams said Jones might have taken this out of context. He testified that he hoped to get information from Jones in the future, since, he said, she hangs out at night around town.

Jones and Nya Williams said as they reentered Yellow Springs on Xenia Avenue, Matt Williams pulled out of Pettit’s BP and followed the truck. They claimed Williams pulled them over on Xenia Avenue near the Yellow Springs Library. Jones said Williams only flashed his cruiser’s emergency lights, but did not leave the lights on during the traffic stop.

The officer ordered Jones out of the truck and gave her a sobriety test, she alleged. Though Jones and her passengers had been at a dance club that night, Jones reported that Williams also accused her of being at a strip club with a bunch of whores. Before Williams let Jones go a second time, she reported, he insisted that she thank him.

Williams’s account of this second stop is much different. In his testimony, Williams said that he was parked at the BP station when a speeding car passed by. Williams followed the car to see if the car was weaving, but stopped, when he could not confirm this.

He said that he parked the cruiser on Xenia Avenue and Limestone Street to knock ice off his car’s wiper blades. In his testimony and in a written statement made last September, Williams said that this is when Jones pulled up and asked to talk. He denied following her car and denied using the word “whore” during his conversation with Jones. The officer testified that he did not give Jones a sobriety test during this stop.

Williams claimed that Jones said she was upset because she had a fight with her boyfriend. He also alleged that she admitted to drinking a beer earlier. Williams reported that he told her not to call him by his first name, after which Jones drove away.

In his “daily report,” in which an officer records his or her activities while on duty, Williams said he was running radar on Xenia Avenue and Dayton Street at the time the second encounter likely occurred. He did not log the stop in his daily report nor did he report that he was on Xenia near Limestone when the second incident took place. Williams said he did not record this stop because he did not initiate it and because it was uneventful.

In his testimony and in a written statement, Williams said he was standing outside his car on Xenia Avenue when Jones pulled her truck over. Yellow Springs officers are required to notify the on-duty dispatcher when they get out of their car. Williams did not call this in. After Jones filed her complaint with the Village, Miller reported, Williams told the chief that he was sitting in the car at the time.

At Miller’s request, both Jones and Williams agreed to take lie detector tests, both of which were conducted by Detective Alonzo Wilson of the Xenia Police Division. According to Wilson, Jones did not lie when questioned about the incidents; the test showed Williams was deceptive.

Miller said he focused his investigation on what happened during the second encounter between Williams and Jones and how that encountered occurred. “From the investigation I could only reach one conclusion, that the ladies who came in to report the incident were being truthful,” he said.

During the hearing, Grote and Miller testified that in the past Williams had been untruthful about several incidents. Because of this, Miller said he had reason to believe Jones’s version of the incident.

In his report, Hammond, the hearing officer, said, “It is reasonable to conclude” that Williams “is not being truthful about the events” of Feb. 14; he stopped Jones a second time, without probable cause, which is a “misuse of the power authority entrusted to him as a police officer”; and he “filed a false report concerning his activities” that morning.

Complaints and commendations

While Williams, who is 35, lost his job over this specific incident, his personnel file indicates that he had struggled lately at his job. While Williams received an overall satisfactory grade on an evaluation for March 1999 to February 2000, he received a number of poor marks on his last evaluation, which covered March 2001 to March 2002, and which was conducted by Captain Grote. Grote rated Williams as strongly needing improvement.

In the latest evaluation, Grote said that Williams “has the potential to be a good officer with good communication skills, and good demeanor with the public.” But Grote also said that Williams needed to change and “understand the importance of being authentic in this profession.”

Based on the evaluation, Williams was denied a step increase in pay.

Records in Williams’s personnel file also show that the department had received several complaints about him. Grote reported in Williams’s 2002 evaluation that the complaints were about the officer’s actions when working with the public.

During his career here, Williams also received a number of letters of commendation from Chief Miller and local residents.

—-Robert Mihalek